Heat is On! Can India adapt to warming weather?

New Delhi (IANS/ 101Reporters) Heatwaves in India have become more frequent, intense, and longer-lasting. This increase can be attributed to the larger problem of global warming and climate change. Rising greenhouse gas emissions have led to a rise in average global temperatures, which directly contribute to the occurrence and severity of heat waves.

In order to understand the importance of Heat Action Plans and the implications of extreme weather, we spoke to Aditya Valiathan Pillai, a fellow with the Initiative for Climate, Energy and Environment (ICEE) at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR). His current work focuses on strengthening policies to combat extreme heat.

The heatwave challenge

The conversation began by acknowledging the undeniable evidence of rising temperatures and an increasing number of heat waves in India. Aditya Valiathan Pillai emphasised that the issue isn’t just limited to heat waves but extends to various extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. With these events worsening due to global warming, the need for proactive measures is evident.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has highlighted the current impact of climate change on India, suggesting that these impacts are already here and intensifying. Rising temperatures are taking a toll on agriculture, causing wheat and maize production to decline significantly. As a result, a considerable portion of the population is at risk of hunger. Additionally, extreme weather events are causing massive infrastructure losses and threatening India’s GDP. These events are not mere projections; they are a reality with severe implications.

Socioeconomic impact of extreme weather

The discussion then delved into the socioeconomic shockwaves that extreme weather events, especially heat waves, bring at both the national and state levels. Aditya Valiathan Pillai emphasised the complexity of assessing damages caused by heat waves since they extend beyond physical infrastructure. Losses in productivity and labour hours across the economy are often difficult to quantify but are no less devastating.

Studies have attempted to estimate these losses, particularly regarding labour productivity. One study projected a potential loss of 5 per cent of working hours by 2030 due to heat exposure, with agricultural sectors experiencing a more significant impact. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that a significant portion of India’s labour force is exposed to extreme heat conditions.

Implementation of Heat Action Plans

The heart of the issue lies in the multifaceted nature of the heat wave problem. Heat Action Plans (HAPs) are created to address this challenge, but their implementation is far from straightforward. HAPs are bottom-up initiatives that vary from state to state. Different departments are involved in their creation, leading to coordination challenges and varying levels of effectiveness. Additionally, the absence of a central mandate for HAPs compounds the problem.

To evaluate the effectiveness of HAPs, Pillai’s team compiled a repository of 37 HAPs from across India, creating the first comprehensive resource of its kind. Three key aspects were evaluated including the range of solutions (urban shade cover, cooling centres, heat-resilient crops, efficient irrigation, etc.), characterisation of heat (temperature, humidity, exposure duration), and implementation prospects like the viability of implementation through the creation of institutional structures, financial considerations, and the legal framework supporting HAPs.

One of the core challenges in HAP implementation is the multi-departmental nature of the issue. Heat waves impact various aspects of society, and no single department holds complete responsibility for addressing them. Ideally, a disaster declaration could simplify the process, bringing a more coordinated response. However, the definition of heat as a disaster remains a complex issue.

Addressing the multi-departmental challenge

At present, heat is not classified as a disaster at the national level. While some states have declared it as such, the effectiveness of this approach varies based on each state’s governance architecture. Heat’s classification as a disaster may not always be the best solution. The key is to find the most suitable department or agency to handle the problem effectively within each state’s context.

India’s battle against heat waves and extreme weather events is a complex and multifaceted challenge. While Heat Action Plans are a step in the right direction, their effectiveness varies across states. The issue’s multi-departmental nature requires a coordinated effort and a clear understanding of vulnerability at the local level.

Defining heat as a disaster could streamline the response, but the nuances of this approach need careful consideration. Regardless, addressing the heat wave challenge is imperative for India’s future, as these events have far-reaching socioeconomic consequences. By understanding the complexities involved and continuously refining HAPs, India can better prepare for and mitigate the impact of heat waves and other extreme weather events in the years to come. Adaptation and proactive measures are key to ensuring a sustainable and resilient future in the face of a warming world.

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